Natural Foods Merchandiser

Q&A with Steve Demos

Q: You often talk about the "right livelihood" philosophy, what does that mean?

A: A product, a food or a service that has to be good for me, good for you and good for everything it touches. That means no harming the planet, no harming other sentient beings, no exploiting the supply chain, no exploiting the employees, no misleading the consumers.

Q: You're leading the fight in Boulder against Roundup Ready sugar beets. What compelled you to get involved?

A: We don't want to be an experiment until the science is proven, and that's going to take a period of time. I jumped into this because I love Boulder, and it's an epicenter of natural and organic living.

Q: As an industry, are we going to stand up and do something about genetically modified organisms?

A: We are challenged with issues of feeding the massive quantities of people we have on the planet. I know the GMO people feel they have an answer. But really this is a very recent discovery, and it has not been fully vetted. You have to be able to study things to the point of conclusive science. You have to have an open dialogue. I don't think we're there. I say slow down and study GMOs more, and I would like to see our industry embrace the path of caution.

Q: What is the next challenge facing the naturals industry?

A: If you're a leader, you can't be worried about the opinions of those who are looking for leadership. You have to find a path that has meaningfulness to you, and then you have to prove it. You have to stick with it against all forms of adversity. Naturals has to define what that means for itself. The industry is clearly at a crossroads. We've done a remarkably effective job over the past 40 years in drawing to the attention of the mainstream the needs for embracing the natural world, social responsibility, environmental protection. These are all elements we started long ago, saying we're not going to be foodies but agents of social change, and it just so happens that we embraced the natural foods market as our medium. Now we're 40 years down the road and we're still staring at a dead-end street. Only now, the dead end part is closer than it was then and we're running out of natural resources. So what do we do as a natural foods industry? Return to where we started and be as authentic as we can and hold on to the safe harbor of what nature has been proving for thousands of years.

Q: What will be the most lasting effect of mass on naturals?

A: Large corporate America sees money in them green hills. We proved this is an economically viable and important industry, and now the rest of the county is going to embrace it. We just have to step back and say what is our next path? We got the environmental part down, but we also can be focusing on the social responsibility part, right livelihood, that you can't take without giving back, that you can't own individually without spreading the benefit.

As an industry, we understand these concepts, but maybe now it's time to amplify them and bring that to our business models.

Q: How is NextFoods emulating that idea?

A: NextFoods is an attempt to take all the learnings and all the virtue of the last 40 years, rooted in right livelihood, rooted in social responsibility and environmental sensitivity, and couple it with science. NextFoods is about the evolution of the food industry and the way we as consumers are going to look at our foods. We're going to look at bioactive foods. NextFoods wants to be the leader of that movement.

Q: How is GoodBelly doing?

A: Remarkably well. Launching a company at this time is like launching a canoe into a hurricane. It has been a challenge to find a consumer who is not hunkering down and scared to death because of the economic environment. In a natural products community, that consumer is alive, doing well and drinking lots of GoodBelly.

–Interview by Angela Cortez

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